[This post is all over the place. I wrote it out for the first time, only to suffer severe insomnia last night. There are so many issues in this, and I hope to address different issues in upcoming posts. If I seem to ramble–well, I’ve no doubt I am rambling. The personal is political, and that isn’t always easy.]
So . . .
I’ve been pondering how to bring this up. Because, progressive reader, I’m about to share with you something I don’t tell most people.
Or really, any one. Until now.
I tell my parents a lot, and they have been and remain supportive of me through thick and thin. Same with my partner, with friends, with other family members.
But this is taboo.
Or so it feels.
* Deep Breath *
I was homeless. I was pregnant, and homeless for about 6 months.
Now, homelessness has many definitions. You could argue I wasn’t homeless.
Section 330 of the Public Health Service Act (42 U.S.C., 254b) defines homelessness as:
A homeless individual is defined in section 330(h)(4)(A) as “an individual who lacks housing (without regard to whether the individual is a member of a family), including an individual whose primary residence during the night is a supervised public or private facility (e.g., shelters) that provides temporary living accommodations, and an individual who is a resident in transitional housing.” A homeless person is an individual without permanent housing who may live on the streets; stay in a shelter, mission, single room occupancy facilities, abandoned building or vehicle; or in any other unstable or non-permanent situation.
By law, I was not a “homeless individual.” I was a “homeless person.”
How did that happen? I was raised middle-class, possibly upper middle class. I am a white, cisgender female. I ooze education. I believed this country had safety nets–effective safety nets.
In 2005, my then-fiance accepted a job at um, major operating system company in Redmond, Washington (hint, hint) as a developer and programmer. After graduate school, I was to move out to Seattle permanently (I spent summers out there with him), and my health care and moving costs were even included in his acceptance negotiations.
This was a great deal! As hard as it was to leave Seattle in August 2005, I did, absolutely determined to finish my doctoral work that year. Fiance and I spoke on the phone daily, despite our workaholic habits. (Hey, we were both trying to distract ourselves from the heartache due to distance.)
I spent three weeks of winter break in Seattle. We finalized plans for my move. The move seemed to be imminent, given the career-ending-for-reporting-it sexual harassment I had incurred at State of Florida University. While in Seattle, I spoke with people in the philosophy department of the University of Washington about transferring. They were most welcoming and understanding, but due to State of Florida U. taking months to “investigate”, I would have to take a year off.
I was okay with that. I broke things for the software company over the summer–I could probably get a job again doing that, and hey! We could also start a family, which we wanted to do, without the dreaded (and sometimes damning) break in my professional career.
We got pregnant.
And . . .
He started acting a bit “off”. It started slowly, but snowballed into full on psychotic breaks. My fiance quit his job. I’m pregnant, showing, and he quits his job.
He stopped paying rent, citing some unintelligible reason. He used his credit cards to buy plane tickets to England (never used), and all sorts of stuff.
I thought this was mania. I followed him as he wandered the Nevada-Utah deserts, hoping with all my heart he wouldn’t kill myself. I knew something was wrong, and I called social services when I felt overwhelmed–once. On the border of Utah-Nevada. The well-intentioned social worker we both met with decided strange behavior (including the belief you’re Jesus) was due to a “lack of sleep.”
We ended up back in Seattle, him acting more like the person I had known for years…but in Seattle, we had no “home.” So we had, essentially, an efficiency for months. June through September 26, I believe. We both foolishly thought maybe what happened was stress related. He applied for jobs, had interviews with companies you utilize if you’re online.
I sat on the bed, feeling helpless and like a burden. While it’s illegal to not hire a woman because she’s pregnant…c’mon. Let’s not pretend that doesn’t happen. It does.
And I stared at my growing belly constantly. We delighted in the stronger kicks, played games with the bebe, dreamed of him getting a job, buying a house, and then I’d be able to start back on my career. I had no insurance, no prenatal care during these months. I worried anytime my stomach hurt. To save money, we mostly ate bread, cheese, and hummus once a day. (I also liked spinach, but alas, that was the time of the spinach recall.) He wanted me to eat more; I didn’t want to waste our dwindling funds (I know, stupid on my part.) I also wasn’t very hungry.
My belly kept growing, and finally he said that we needed to move back to our parents in Florida.
I was devastated for a couple years. This move was the nail in the coffin of so many dreams and hopes. I didn’t WANT to accept it. I did, but a part of me fought, maybe even in some mild denial.
We lived with his parents. I started getting prenatal care around 34 weeks. Then we moved with my parents, because they lived closer to where we wanted to give birth.
45 hours of labor later and a C-section later, we welcomed the most special little girl into our lives.
She’s 6.5 years old now. The person she calls “Daddy” she met when she was 2. Tragically, her biological father and one of the best friends I’ve ever had wasn’t bipolar or stressed. He was developing schizophrenia, and every psychotic break made it harder and harder for his brain to heal.
I was pregnant and homeless. I managed, with help from my family (who allowed me live with them for two years) and the government (via Medicaid) to rebuild my life. I had to move back to Florida to get Medicaid–you could only get it in the state of your residence. And to change my residency, I’d need a home/non-PO Box mailing address.
I wish everyone was as supported, in the end, as we were by my family.
20 to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. In comparison, only 6%of Americans are severely mentally ill.
Keep me in mind the next time you see someone homeless. We are not nameless. You may not even know that someone is homeless–I certainly looked “well-kept”, but we were cramped in a small efficiency room or their car.
The people you see–they are loved. Maybe they’re sick. Maybe they’ve been given horrible advice that a mental illness is “stress” or something along those lines. Maybe they just discovered the many unfortunate ways to fall through the cracks.
All the while, remember that we aren’t making staying healthy OR staying housed any easier:
“Between 2009 and 2012, states cut a total of $4.35 billion in public mental-health spending from their budgets.”
Our communities are hurting, and this is self-inflected.